My first introduction to the hard mathematics of politics was in a meeting of the Republican Leadership of the House of Representatives in 1990. My boss, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, was presenting his plan to end the war in Nicaragua and the conservatives weren’t happy. One of them accused Secretary Baker of betraying the principles of former President Ronald Reagan. Secretary Baker let him finish and then, in his calm but cold Texas accent, quietly said, “our problem isn’t my ideological purity; it’s your inability to count.” The bottom line was we didn’t have the votes and we all knew it.
Counting votes is the lost art of American politics. When Illinois Republican Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House in 1999, he instituted a policy within the Republican Conference known as the Hastert Rule, which required that any legislation brought to the House floor must have majority support within the Republican Conference—even if a significant majority of the members of the full House would vote to pass it. In doing so, it weakened the speakership and ended the influence of moderates in either party. Dennis Hastert is gone, but his rule has lived on in both houses of Congress and both parties.
Not anymore. A closely divided House, an evenly divided Senate, and an historic health and economic crisis may have mortally wounded the Hastert Rule. It’s time to bury it once and for all. As I said in last week’s member note, incoming Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will have to decide how he will address Rule 22. Known as the filibuster rule, it requires 60 votes to bring legislation to the Senate floor. Many progressives will urge him to use the “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster altogether. That would be a big bet on perpetual control of the Senate and several Senate Democrats and all Republicans are likely to object. As a result, anyone who wants to get legislation passed is going to have to learn how to count to 60.
Several senators are already promising prospects for housers. Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) are cosponsors of the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who voted for the last stimulus bill, is the incoming Ranking Republican of the Senate Banking Committee, and has been outspoken against President Trump since the election. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been a strong supporter of several housing programs. Other potential allies include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.V.), among others.
All of us should plan on spending a lot of time with their staffs, their most influential constituents and donors, and with them, both on Zoom and, when safe again, in their offices. Our politics have become toxic, but they don’t have to be. Housing can be the issue where we find common ground. We combine progressive social policy goals with business growth and job creation. With unemployment hovering above 9%, housing affordability being tough as ever, and millions of Americans struggling to pay their rent and mortgages, we bring a lot to the table. Trillion dollar spending bills are great while they last, but soon enough, we are all going to have to learn how to count to 60.